When I Felt Like I Just Had to ‘Try Harder’ Before My Autism Diagnosis

People were, and are, magic to me. I was always utterly fascinated and compelled by their rhythm. I’ve always felt a little out of step or out of beat with their seemingly coordinated synchronicity. They moved as one, knew how to laugh, what to say and when to say it, how to hold you with their eyes, their hands and arms, and walked with direction and assurance. I didn’t.

Around 15, I became depressed and just did not want to be. It took a long time, through therapy (my godsend), to learn to cope with those heavy feelings in a healthy way. I still struggle many times, but at least there’s a struggle. I have a tendency to keep feelings and thoughts, good or bad, bottled up, and have never been good at releasing them. It wasn’t until just last year when I began expressing myself more with my words through art and my writing. We’re told to express ourselves so we can make connections and grow closer to people. So, as difficult and frustrating as it was, I began vocalizing those bottled-up emotions and thoughts. However, I found I was feeling more disconnected, and that distance between myself and another person that was supposed to shrink only grew. Not one person I knew was hearing, seeing or feeling things the way I was.

All through my life I’ve always been teased for being “weird,” which I believe was and has always been a term of endearment from loved ones, so I didn’t mind it; now it was beginning to stab. I used to get teased for what I now know is stimming. I’ve always had a sensitivity to light and touch. Every hug and handshake left an echo on my skin, and I didn’t know how to explain that feeling to others as an explanation for my instinctual habit of recoiling when presented with open arms or as hands were thrusted in my direction. I didn’t like seeing the hurt on family members’ faces or confusion on a stranger’s face at what they perceived as my awkwardness or rudeness. When in a social setting surrounded by all the separate conversations and background sounds, lights, smells, etc., I didn’t know how to describe what felt like Pop Rocks underneath my skin, or the overwhelming anxiety and exhaustion that followed. My therapist decided it’d be a good idea to get reassessed because she feared there was something missed in the original diagnosis a previous doctor conducted (which said I had major depressive disorder, ADD and anxiety disorder).

This summer, I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. It’s taken a couple of months to sit with it and process it. I am who I’ve always been, except now I have a diagnosis that answered so many questions about me from childhood up to my now nearly-25-year-old self. I had always just figured everyone felt and saw the world as I did, but that I sucked at life and they were really good at it, so maybe I was just a bad person and should try harder. Believe me, it’s a good weight to have off your shoulders.

I’m not the best writer. I have trouble getting the words out (vocally and on paper), but I do love to write. I have found photography and painting, or what I call doodling on canvas, to be most helpful in expressing what I can’t verbally express. My “paintings” are my shadows. They’re sort of the silly, sometimes sad or serious private bits wedged in somewhere in my mind. About half of my paintings have been done in the middle of the night on nights I can’t sleep. I paint and then I can write; and when I can write, then I can sleep.

Illustration of person's face with the word imbalance underneath it
Artwork by the author, Elaine Barron
illustration of person's face with closed eyes and the word stillness underneath it
Artwork by the author, Elaine Barron

If I was a better painter, maybe I could paint exactly, image for image, what was in my head so I wouldn’t have to bother with writing, and would then earn respect for myself and buy better quality paintbrushes. Until that day, I will stick with the cheap paintbrushes and struggle with the words. But at least with every frustrating moment there is relief, now that I know why the struggle exists.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo at the top via Thinkstock Images

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Autism Spectrum Disorder

girl dressed in halloween outfit

5 Ways Friends Can Support Parents of Children on the Autism Spectrum

I know many of us are probably glad to have another Halloween behind us and don’t really want to revisit the holiday for another 360 days (or in three days when our kids start planning what they’re going to be for next Halloween). Bear with me, though. This story does include Halloween, but it isn’t [...]
Screenshot from NAS video that says "Should I be honest?"

National Autistic Society Video Shows What Job Interviews Can Be Like for People With Autism

Job interviews are stressful for everyone, but for people on the autism spectrum interviewing for a job presents a number of challenges neurotypical people don’t always have to face. Now, thanks to a new video from the National Autistic Society, those who aren’t on the spectrum can see the interview process in a different light. According to [...]
young girl in front of wooden fence

The Question I Want to Be Asked About My Daughter on the Spectrum

  After my daughter Raelyn was diagnosed with autism, I got two tattoos in her honor. I think they were healing for me. I have one on each forearm, so I always get asked about them when I’m out in public. They can be a wonderful ice-breaker to get people talking about autism. Almost every time [...]
Teacher in Front of a Classroom

My Advice for the Teacher of My Son on the Autism Spectrum

Dear Teacher, I am happy to see my son is in your class. I am sure you have chosen your profession because you love working with kids and have a passion for teaching. I am sure you are dedicated and highly motivated, and that when you realized you would have a child on the autism [...]